Spain: Team Preview - 2014 FIFA World Cup
After a 3-0 drubbing in the Confederations cup final in 2013, the stage is set for La Rojas to make a perfect comeback in the grandest stage in world football. The world champions seem a formidable unit and would be up for any challenge en-route their title defence.
This season, we witnessed Spanish football take a big leap in the form of Atletico Madrid destroying the shackles of Spanish giants on La Liga and eventually become the champions. However, the surprising upheavel of Atletico may prove to be a blessing in disguise for manager Vicente Del Bosque as the Rojiblancos provide brilliant additions to the national squad in the form of Diego Costa, Koke and Juanfran. The Spaniards have hit a purple patch at a near perfect time and some of the players like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa enter the competition oozing form, confidence and determination for more glory.
Road to World Cup
Spain’s road to world cup began on the September 11, 2012, seeded in UEFA’s Group I. It was a group posing minimal threat to Spain with Finland, Belarus, Georgia and France seeded against them. France, being the only possible contender to grab points from the world champions, managed a 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon thanks to a last minute equaliser from Olivier Giroud.
The real surprise had come from Finland who manged a similar result through a late equaliser from Pukki to cancel out Ramos’ goal. Apart from these, La Rojas had a smooth run during the qualifiers finishing atop the group with 20 points, scoring 14 goals and conceding just 3 goals in 8 games. Barcelona winger, Pedro Rodriguez finished as the top scorer for Spain with 4 goals which includes a hat-trick against Belarus in a 0-4 win.
A 30-man provisional squad was announced initially but a final squad of 23 players were announced on the May 31. Apparently, Spain as such have a winning squad which doesn’t demand catastrophic changes to be brought about but the likes of Koke, Diego Costa, Juanfran and Azpilicueta will be a great addition to the star-studded lineup.
Iker Casillas will captain the side and hardly face any competition for a starting spot with Valdes out injured. De Gea had a brilliant season and would be a starter in any other side but Spain. Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Javi Martinez and Raul Albiol are the options for the centre back position. Spain boast one of the best set of full backs in the world today and would be a pleasing headache to Del Bosque with Jordi Alba, Juanfran and Azpilicueta all in contention.
The Spaniards arguably have the best midfield in world football with the likes of Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas, Xavi and Alonso – the last two who may play their last World Cup. Spain are one of the very few teams wherein a player of Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla’s stature would have to put up with the bench for the entire tournament. Jorge Resurrecion ‘Koke’ is an excellent addition to the squad and Del Bosque may find him a spot in the starting 11 owing to Koke’s ability to play on the flanks.
Diego Costa, David Villa and Fernando Torres constitute the strikers with David Silva and Pedro being the wingers. In the 2010 World Cup, Spain managed a mere 8 goals out of the 7 games they played and would be hoping for better attacking stats this year, for which Diego Costa will be a key. Del Bosque would hope to have a fully-fit Costa back for the World Cup as he could provide the cutting edge which they lacked last year in the Confederations Cup.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Defenders: Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Fabreagas (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Juan Mata (Manchester United), David Silva (Manchester City)
Forwards: Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Pedro (Barcelona), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), David Villa (Atletico Madrid)
Amidst managers like Paulo Di Canio, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp who celebrate in a wild fashion when they emerge victorious in a league game, Vicente Del Bosque is a manager who struggles to put up a smile when his team scores a winner in the 116th minute of a World Cup final. Jokes apart, Del Bosque is one of the most decorated managers in world football and has hardly tasted defeat with La Rojas. Apart from his national achievements, he enjoyed tremendous success at Real Madrid winning 2 Champions League trophies and 2 La Ligas. Del Bosque has the quality within and quality in the squad to become the first European team to win the World Cup in South America and undoubtedly, the trip to Brazil would be one of the biggest tests in his managerial career.
Formations and Tactics
Spain’s golden run in the recent past is tactically a similar story to that of Barcelona. The Tiki-Taka of the Catalans brought them huge success in the domestic level winning more than a handful of trophies in a short span. It was an intelligent move by Del Bosque to instill the same into a national side which was largely constituted by Barcelona. Similarly, it is now time for Del Bosque to realize the need for a change in gameplay owing to the predictability it brings to his side.
We witnessed counter-attack emerging victorious against possession on various occasions this season and it wouldn’t seem much of a surprise seeing the same strategy being adopted on the national fronts. Undoubtedly, there is a need for direct football and it could be achieved through subtle variations in attack. However with all due respect to Alvaro Arbeloa, his exclusion to bring in the likes of Azpilicueta and Juanfran brings more diligence to defence and the Spaniards seem a solid unit at the back.
The traditional 4-3-3 has been the Spain’s go-to formation in the recent past. The defence comprises of Pique-Ramos at the heart and the fullbacks going forward to supplement the attack. Jordi Alba and Azpilicueta who are likely candidates to start, will pose a threat going forward and at the same time offer solidity at the back. However, the midfield comprising of Xavi, Busquets and Alonso act as the backbone of La Rojas. Here, Alonso plays a makeshift role with Busquets screening the centre backs on the counter and Xavi dictating the play.
Hence, the formation is more of a 4-2-3-1 double pivot with Busquets and Alonso as the defensive midfielders and thus provides a precise balance between defence and attack. Pedro plays as a typical winger, providing width to the attack while Iniesta plays as a false winger and is arguably the most dangerous threat going forward. The trickery of the false winger is that they never play out wide and often cut into the final third, deceive the full back creating space to force the centre back out of position. Iniesta, Silva and Kagawa are few of the good exponents of the false winger and the position demands exquisite dribbling and play making abilities for effective utilization. Owing to the exceptional finishing and aerial abilities of Diego Costa, he would be the target-man of the killer passes from the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso.
The 4-3-3 with Iniesta and Fabregas in the middle provides fluidity to the gameplay. While Xavi remains calm and patient in the build-up play, Fabregas offers the facility of keeping Tiki-Taka intact and simultaneously add tempo to the attacks. The addition of David Silva on the flanks is another reason why there is an increased scope for offensive football in this formation. While the attacking masterclass is taken care of, Koke’s workrate proves handy for Del Bosque as he provides defensive diligence and could offer cover for Ramos getting caught off guard. Moreover, the physicality which lacks in the middle due to the absence of Alonso is compensated at the back as Ramos, Pique and Javi constitute the defensive line. Here, Ramos’ attacking workrate might be below par and the reason being:
- Having a third man alongside Pique and Javi to guard them on the counter, owing to the lack of pace of the centre backs.
- Alba and Busquets acquire more freedom going forward to supplement the attack and maintain pressure.
Despite the absence of Xabi Alonso in the middle, this formation could prove to be an answer for the defensive woes of Del Bosque.
4-3-3 (False 9) formation
The 4-3-3 False 9 or the 4-6-0 is a formation that Del Bosque would deploy in the absence of Diego Costa. Owing to the absence of a real poacher, this formation emphasizes on Tiki-Taka or making your way to the back of the net through short-passing and swift movement off the ball. This would work against teams posing minimal attacking threat and it is unlikely that it would be deployed against a high-quality opposition.
The precise short-passing of Iniesta, Fabregas, Xavi and Silva aims at unlocking defenses mainly by exploiting the gaps in the final third. There isn’t much of a difference in the role played by Busquets and Alonso and they would look to maintain the pressure during attacks and guard the centre backs on the counter. Juanfran-Alba would make another solid full back combination as the pair is defensively sound and would also provide ample assistance on the flanks. Given the form and experience of Juanfran, it wouldn’t spring a surprise to see him start in the bigger stages.
Best Starting XI
It would be extremely difficult to pick out the best starting XI from a squad as star-studded as Spain but the experience, temperament and skill demanded at this level of competition would imply that a few stars have no choice, but to make way. Here are the expected starters for the 2014 FIFA World Cup:
Goalkeeper- Iker Casillas (c)
Defenders- Azpilicueta, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Midfielders- Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi
Forwards- Iniesta, Costa, Pedro
History at the World Cup
|1930||Did not participate|
|1954||Did not qualify|
|1958||Did not qualify|
|1970||Did not qualify|
|1974||Did not qualify|
|1990||Round of 16|
|2006||Round of 16|
Spain haven’t enjoyed a great deal of success in the international arena until the 2010 edition. The 2010 FIFA World Cup was their maiden World Cup victory and the cup has never been within their reach before. Their previous best performance was way back in 1950 when they finished 4th place. Apart from the dream World Cup run in 2010, among the last 5 editions they had put in a decent performance in 1994 and 2002, finishing as quarter finalists eliminated by Italy and South Korea respectively.
In 2002, La Rojas had 2 goals incorrectly disallowed and the game went on to extra-time and finished 0-0. South Korea beat Spain 5-3 in the penalty shootout to unfairly send Spain out of the tournament. The 1998 edition was the biggest disappoinment as they were eliminated in the group stage, having been seeded in a group with Nigeria, Paraguay and Bulgaria. Spain could manage only 4 points and finished third in the group. In 2006, Spain had come into the Round of 16 with all guns blazing as they had won all 3 games in the group stage, only to be destroyed 3-1 by France.
Best Performance in a World Cup
The 2010 World Cup victory has by far been the best performance for Spain. Del Bosque’s men kicked-off the tournament suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland but showed tremendous character to beat every opponent thereon until the final. The Spaniards had scored a mere 8 goals in 7 games they played and all 8 goals were scored by a Barcelona player – Villa (5), Iniesta (2) and Puyol (1). Spain went through to the Round of 16 after easy wins against Honduras and Chile in the group stage.
The road to the final was constituted by hard-fought 1-0 victories against Portugal, Paraguay and Germany in the round of 16, quarter-final and semi-final respectively. David Villa led the team on his shoulders scoring against Portugal and Paraguay, while a header from Puyol was enough to keep Germany at bay and seal a spot in the final. A rip-roaring final against a determined Dutch side was put to bed by Andres Iniesta in the 116th minute (1-0) which handed La Rojas their maiden World Cup.
Predictions: How far can they go?
Spain are favorites to win the competition as they travel to Brazil as defending champions. They are seeded against a tricky group comprising of Netherlands, Chile and Australia – none of whom can be underestimated. Given the experience and quality present in Spain’s squad, they could emerge winners of the group and likely to face Croatia or Mexico (assuming Brazil finish winners of group A).
La Rojas shouldn’t have a problem going to the semi-final despite Italy being a possible opponent in the quarter-final. With the addition of Koke, Juanfran, Azpilicueta to the star-studded squad, Spain seem a more solid unit than they were in the Confederations Cup last year. Apparently, the only team who could stop the Spaniards is Brazil and if they could avoid the Samba boys until the final then Spain could well be runners-up of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
To see other Team Previews : 2014 FIFA World Cup Team Previews